THE FUNK ZONE
By Jeff Polman
August ruminations on my 1977 replay, Play That Funky Baseball (http://funkyball.wordpress.com), and other Strat-O things
Well, I’ve hit the All-Star break in my 16-team replay, and things couldn’t be more heated. All my hopes for close pennant races with this set are coming true, as the Royals, Red Sox and Yankees are neck-and-neck at the top of the AL, while the Dodgers, Reds, Phillies and Pirates are duking it out daily in the NL. The Astros and Cubs are actually the only clubs in the senior circuit that haven’t tasted first place, and the Rangers, Orioles and Cards certainly can’t be counted out yet.
With that in mind, I thought I’d provide a halfway-mark rundown of every team. You can get the standings and some more detailed team stats from my Web site, but here I thought I’d rank the clubs by run differential, with each team’s record and absentee manager also in parentheses. Enjoy!
1. Cincinnati (+93, 48-36, Amanda Cross of Red-Hot Mama)
A recent blistering streak shot the Reds into first place for a day, as they seized the NL’s power throne by leaps and blasts. Leading both leagues with 119 homers, George Foster has 34 at the break to go with his 99 RBIs, while Johnny Bench has mashed 32. Add to that impeccable fielding, speed and a resurgent Tom Seaver (12-2, 2.89) and there’s reason to be exited in the Queen City.
2. Los Angeles (+86, 48-33, Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball)
The Dodgers went into the break with an 11-game win streak, and they’ve done it with masterful starting pitching. Hooton, Sutton, and John have all been stellar, and they’ve had to be because the offense, after a great start in April, hasn’t done much since. Steve Garvey is stuck at .251, and many of their games are miraculously pulled out with lucky-roll solo shots. In a close race there’s a lot to be said for clutch hits, though, and L.A. also leads both leagues with only 37 errors in 81 games.
3. N.Y. Yankees (+72, 45-37, Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated, Baseball Prospectus)
Their run differential surprised me, because the Bombers have yet to put together a sustained period of great play. Despite an abundance of clutch ratings on their cards, they seldom roll those spots at the right times. Rivers (.260) and Nettles (.221) have been especially awful with the stick. Their fielding range and outfield arms are also subpar, and if you play Reggie and his –3 arm out there you’re stuck with his e18 rating. Figueroa, Guidry and Gullett have been strong at times, but Hunter and Torrez are total crapshoots, and they have four or five spot starters with cards so bad I’m afraid to use them. It’s a wonder this team ever won over 100 games, but here they are, somehow in the thick of the race. Mystique? Aura?
4. Pittsburgh (+69, 48-37, Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?)
Ferocious attackers and lords of the comeback win, the battling Bucs have been close to the top since the season began. They have two major Achilles heels: Stargell and Rennie Stennett, who play brilliantly when they’re not injured, which isn’t too often. Dave Parker (.376) is an everyday lineup force, though, and John Candelaria (13-4, 1.96) has been the best starter in either league. They also have Kent Tekulve (1.29 ERA and Goose Gossage (6-0, 10 saves) at the back end to nail down the wins. If they can stay healthy, they can pull this out.
5. Boston (+60, 47-34, Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods)
I thought these guys would be rated higher, but their wobbly pitching staff brings them down a notch or two. “Ace” Luis Tiant has a 6.77 ERA and has given up a whopping 25 homers in 108 innings. Reggie Cleveland is at 4.94 with 148 hits in 109 innings. Bill Campbell is their only reliable reliever. But man oh man oh woman can these boys hit. Yaz (.337, 21 HR, 68 RBI, .982 OPS) is certainly the first half MVP. 117 team homers so far, scattered up and down the lineup, and away from very friendly Fenway they’re even tougher, with a 24-15 road record. They also don’t walk anyone or make errors, so you have to figure they’ll be in the race for a while.
6. Kansas City (+49, 49-35, Rany Jazayerli of Rany on the Royals)
The AL front-runner at the break, but they’re hindered by a very thin pen which has hurt them in this doubleheader season and could spell trouble in September. On the plus side, they have the fabulous Dennis Leonard (12-4, 1.91), one of the great underrated players in Al Cowens, and RBI machines Brett and McRae. When they play in a good power park like Boston they can be murderous.
7. Texas (+42, 44-39, Ted Leavengood, author and writer for Seamheads)
An inconsistent bunch, but a super 4-man rotation of Blyeven, Ellis, Perry and Alexander should keep them involved for the duration. Harrah and Hargrove are also on-base monsters, but the weak bottom of their lineup and lack of clutch hitting often does them in.
8. St. Louis (+38, 42-39, Mike Metzger of Stan Musial’s Stance)
They exploded in June, winning 12 in a row and going straight to the top for a day or two—but have recently reverted to form. The Cards have great speed and hit scads of doubles and triples (Templeton with 16 already!) but seldom homer, and after Forsch and Rasmussen their staff takes a quick downturn. Wouldn’t want to run into these guys in a late September alley, though.
9. Philadelphia (+5, 48-36, Daniel Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer)
The only reason this team isn’t higher on the list is due to their awful April, and the fact that Larry Christenson (3-8, 7.97) and Randy Lerch (1-6, 8.35) are on their pitching staff. Carlton (11-5, 2.77) and Jim Lonborg (10-3, 3.85) just can’t start every game. Mike Schmidt has finally started hitting, Luzinski has all year, and with Bake McBride joining them in mid –June the Philly bench is suddenly extremely deep, which no doubt explains their 28 comeback victories.
10. Minnesota (–11, 34-47, Howard Sinker, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
Rod Carew’s 46-game hitting streak was the highlight of the season so far, but little else has gone right in the great Twin north. Putrid pitching has offset a lethal (but power-deprived) hitting attack, and they just can’t catch a break at Met Stadium, where they’re a paltry 11-27. With Carew and his ridiculous .420 average and 1.054 OPS at the top of the lineup they can spoil any contender’s party, but I don’t foresee them staging their own.
11. Houston (–12, 38-45, James Yasko of Astros County)
Happy in the Dome are the Astros, to the tune of 25-17, but when they hit the road they play like wayward children (13-28). Still, J. R. Richard has often been great, and Bob Watson (.295, 19 HR, 65 RBIs) is an MVP candidate. The problem for Houston is obviously the power of most of their opposition, a quality they decidedly lack.
12. Baltimore (–17, 41-40, The Eutaw Street Hooligans)
This team has been largely overachieving, winning games on spunk and clutch pitching, and after a recent hot streak against Boston and New York, it’s begun to catch up with them. Six straight losses into the break have knocked them out of the race for the time being, and they’ve scored less runs than anyone.
13. White Sox (–47, 36-45, Keith Scherer, contributor to Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times)
Two words: wretched defense. On a given day they have enough pop to hit with anyone, but their walk-happy pitchers don’t stand a chance when their corner outfielders and keystone combo all have 4-ranges in the field. Way too many hits get through or drop in, and after a nice opening week the South Siders have been spinning their wheels ever since. You just can’t expect to win anything with Alan Bannister’s 4e48 at shortstop.
14. Montreal (–72, 33-49, Jonah Keri, author, stat wizard of Bloomberg Sports)
Gary Carter (.310, 24 HR, 58 RBIs) and Ellis Valentine (.300, 15 HR, 56 RBIs) eat lefties for breakfast, so obviously the Expos aren’t seeing enough of them. Weak pitching outside of Steve Rogers and closer Joe Kerrigan hasn’t helped their cause, and they also own the year’s weirdest stat, having been hit by just six pitches the entire first half. Keep them away from those southpaws and they usually curl up and go to sleep.
15. Cleveland (–102, 31-50, Joe Posnanski, Sports Illustrated)
They’re just 13-27 at home and have grounded into 131 double plays, but Andre Thornton has been monstrous (.937 OPS) and Dennis Eckersley threw no-hit ball for nine innings one night before losing to the Royals in the 10th. In other words, they’re capable of giving anyone a hard time—especially the Yanks, who they’re 6-7 against. In shocking news, Duane Kuiper has yet to hit a home run.
16. Cubs (–202, 26-56, Scott Simkus, head researcher of Strat’s Negro Leagues set)
Poor Cubbies. Poor Scottie. I have to say the manager has been a real good sport, which is about all you can be when your team can’t win a home game (10-31), and your 3-5 starters are a combined 6-30. The Cubs play in the Coors Field of 1977, yet outside of Bobby Murcer and occasionally Greg Gross, don’t hit homers themselves. They can sure serve them up, though, and are on a pace for allowing 212 enemy dingers by season’s end. At least it’s a nice ballpark.
See you in another month, folks, with something entirely different.